Samskaras and Pain

Pain is an interesting word. We all know that pain means we hurt. Sometimes the reason we hurt is obvious….an injury for example. Other times the source of pain is not apparent. But how does pain develop? Pain can occur when there’s tissue damage….i.e. a broken limb. It is also true that pain can be severe even when there is no tissue damage. Pain is the brain’s response to trauma. This response can take place even if the area has healed.

Physiologically this works through neural pathways. The brain receive a signal from muscles and other organs. If the message is that there may be danger (think touching a hot surface) the brain sends it’s own painful signal via the nerves to pull away quick. All this happens in seconds. This is an important response that is designed to protect the body from injury.

This response can become a habitual one that occurs even when the danger passes. So the brain interprets a signal that previously was associated with danger, and it sends a signal of pain to protect from tissue damage. It seems a little screwed up, right? However, if the brain did not respond to touching a hot surface with pain, you may leave your hand on a hot surface and suffer 3rd degree burns. The problem occurs when the brain gets into the habit of sending pain signals when there is no danger to the body.

There is a yogic term for these habitual patterns. It is a samskara…a  learned response or pattern of behavior. Samskara can refer to emotional, social or physical behavior. The physical aspect of a samskara is the learned response of the nervous system to some sort of action or stimulus. Sometimes this happens quickly. A good example is practicing a balance pose. The first side often feels more shaky than the second side. Sometimes there’s a physical reason for this, such as strength differences between the two lower limbs. However, it is often a samskara. The brain and nervous system has already learned what to do from practicing the posture on the first side. Therefore side number 2 seems easier.

Samskaras can also contribute to chronic pain. The neural pathway signals for pain to occur in response to danger. Sometimes something occurs that has indicated danger in the past. Even though there is no current danger (i.e. no tissue damage) the brain still signals the nerves to respond with pain. This can  become a vicious circle because pain can increase stress which can make nerves more sensitive and thus more susceptible to pain.

It’s important to note that there is no one size fits all approach to reprogramming your samskaras or your pain. The first step should always be to visit your doctor, physical therapist or other healthcare practitioner. In addition to medical care it is useful to reduce stress levels and shift your focus away from the pain. Yoga, meditation, and other mindfulness practices can help to resolve painful samskaras.

If you’d like a personalized sequence or an individual session focused on your health goals, please drop me a line at lorie@wellnesswithlorie.com. You can also join me for one of my classes. See my offerings on my schedule page.

For more tips on pain relief and injury prevention through yoga and physical therapy, sign up for my newsletter here, or follow me on social media on FaceBook @yogalorie, Instagram Wellness_with_Lorie, or LinkedIn yogalorie

Pain Bringing You to Your Knees?

The knee has an important job. It helps us walk, and is the midway point between the hips and the ankles. The knee has the distinction of being the largest joint of the human body. It’s easy to take this simple looking joint for granted, but it is also the most complex joint in the body. The kneecap (patella) is shaped to fit precisely against the bones beneath it, like interlocking puzzle pieces. Other parts of this puzzle are structures designed to cushion and support the bones. This includes muscles, cartilage, ligaments and the menisci (cushiony shock absorbers on the inside and outside of the knee). The location of the knee joint makes it either a goodwill ambassador or bad news reporter to the rest of the body. Problems with the knees can affect feet, ankles, hips and low back. Plus, knee pain itself is no fun!

There are indeed many conditions and injuries of the knee. Today we explore  arthritis in the knee, and propose some solutions to keep our knees happy. Arthritis is a degenerative disease that causes stiffness, pain, swelling and lack of motion in the joints. The knee supports the upper body and withstands a lifetime of motion. Because of this, wear and tear takes its toll. The cartilage, which protects adjacent bones from rubbing against each other, starts to wear down. This process can also be accelerated from injury to the knees.

There are several things we can do to keep the knees healthy. First, alignment is essential. The knee should track over the center of the foot. (Keep this in mind in your next yoga class), When the knee goes inward toward midline it’s been found to contribute to arthritis pain and inflammation….ouch!

To help with alignment, start by making sure you have good shoes. Sometimes all it takes is good shoes with arch support to help align the knees and alleviate pressure on the joints. Also, keep in mind that the ankles, hips, SI joint, and low back all have a role to play in keeping the knees strong. Ankles and hips can get tight, so practice stretches to keep them supple. Strengthen the core abdominal muscles. This will support the low back, which will help support the knees.

Here are some yoga postures that can help your knees:

    • Utkatanasana (Chair Pose)
    • Utkatanasana hugging a yoga block between the knees
    • Virabhadrasana 1 (Warrior 1)
    • Adho Mukha Svanasna (Downward Dog) Look back to see it your knees are aligned
    • Setu Bandha Sarvangasna (Bridge Pose)
    • Trikonasana (Triangle Pose)
    • Uttitta Parsvokonasana (Lateral Angle Pose)
    • Plank
    • Supine Figure 4 Stretch
    • Supta Padangustasana (Supine Hamstring Stretch)

Working on the knees involves a lot of exercises or yoga postures because so many parts of the body support the knees. Regular yoga classes can help with creating suppleness in the tight areas of the body, and also strengthening hip and core muscles. If you’d like to join me for one of my classes, check out my schedule page here. I would also be happy to work with you individually. If you’d like a personalized sequence or an individual session focused on your health goals, please drop me a line at lorie@wellnesswithlorie.com.

For more tips on pain relief and injury prevention through yoga and physical therapy, sign up for my newsletter here, or follow me on social media on FaceBook @yogalorie, Instagram Wellness_with_Lorie, or LinkedIn yogalorie